In Haitian Vodou and the traditional faith of the Yoruba, Ogun (or Ogoun, Ogun, Ogou, Ogum) is a loa and orisha who presides over fire, iron, hunting, politics and war. He is the patron of smiths, and is usually displayed with a number of attributes: a machete or sabre, rum and tobacco. He is one of the husbands of Erzulie in Voo Doo, and is a husband of Oshun and Oya and a friend to Eshu in Yoruba mythology.
Ogun is the traditional warrior and is seen as a powerful deity of metal work, similar to Ares and Hephaestus in Greek mythology and Visvakarma in classical Hinduism. He is also prominently represented as Saint George in the syncretic traditions of contemporary Brazil. As such, Ogun is mighty, powerful and triumphal, yet is also known to exhibit the rage and destructiveness of the warrior whose strength and violence must not turn against the community he serves. Perhaps linked to this theme is the new face he has taken on in Haiti which is not quite related to his African roots, that of a powerful political leader.
He gives strength through prophecy and magic. It is Ogun who is said to have planted the idea in the heads of, led and given power to the slaves for the Haitian Revolution of 1804. Therefore, he is often called in the contemporary period to help the people of Haiti to obtain a government that is more responsive to their needs.
Ogun comes to mount people in various aspects of his character, and the people who venerate him are quite familiar with each of them. Some of these aspects are:
- Ogun the wounded warrior. He assumes a Christ-figure pose which the people know well from their Christian associations.
- Ogun Feraille. He gives strength to the servitors by slapping them on the thighs or back.
- Ogun Badagris. He may lift a person up and carry him or her around to indicate his special attention and patronage.
In all of the varied aspects of Ogoun, however, there is the dominant theme of power and militancy which serves to exemplify his position as a spirit of war.
His possessions can sometimes be violent. Those mounted by him are known to wash their hands in flaming rum without suffering from it later. They dress up in green and black, wave a sabre or machete, chew a cigar and demand rum in an old phrase "Gren mwe fret" (my testicles are cold). Often, this rum is first poured on the ground, then lit and, finally, the fumes generated by this are then allowed to pervade the peristyle. The sword, or much more commonly the machete, is his weapon and he often does strange feats of poking himself with it, or even sticking the handle in the ground, then mounting the blade without piercing his skin.
In Yoruba mythology, Ogun is a primordial Orisha whose first appearance was as a hunter named Tobe Ode. He is said to be the first of the Orisha to descend to the realm of Ile Aiye or the earth to find suitable habitation for future human life. In commemoration of this, one of his praise names is Osin Imole or the "first of the primordial Orisha to come to Earth". Ogun was almost certainly first worshipped by the Yoruba people of West Africa. He is worshipped in places like Ekiti, Oyo and Ondo States. He is believed by his followers to have wo ile sun, which means to sink into the ground in the stead of dying, in a place named Ire-Ekiti. Through out his earthly life, he is thought to have fought for the people of Ire.
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